ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — The summary for House Bill 1776 states, “To Modernize And Strengthen Nursing Facility Staffing Standards And Reporting Requirements.”
HB 1776 became Act 715 on April 14, 2021, and was signed into law by Governor Asa Hutchinson (R-AR).
The House passed the third reading on April 05, 2021, with 86 Yea, 1 Nay, and 13 Abstained. Rep. Denise Garner (D) was the sole no vote. Those who abstained: Andrew Collins (D), Jon Eubanks (R), David Fielding (D), Vivian Flowers (D), Jimmie Gazaway (R), Stephen Magie (D), Julie Mayberry (R), Tippi McCullough (D), Reginald Mudocke (D), Matthew Shepherd (R), Joy Springer (D), Jeff Wardlaw (R), David Whitaker (D).
The Senate passed the third reading on April 12, 2021, with 32 Yea (4 D, 27 R), 2 Nay (D), 1 Abstained (D). Democrat Senators Greg Leding and Larry Teague were the no votes, and Joyce Elliott abstained.
The 16-page bill had nearly 50% (8 pages) stricken.
The bill now requires every state-licensed nursing facility that is certified to participate in the federal Medicare/Medicaid program must follow federal guidelines, “which are enforced by both the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Department of Human Services in its role under federal law as the state survey agency,” as stated on page 2.
The bill repealed the section (Arkansas Code § 20-10-2110) involving staffing regulation.
Work shifts have been removed from the bill. For example, “day shift” meant the period of 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s been replaced with, “the total number of hours of direct care services provided by direct care staff in a month, divided by the number of calendar days in that month and the facility’s average daily resident census for that month,” the bill states on page 4.
Also removed was the “Direct care staff,” definition, which meant any nurse aide … hands-on care to nursing facility residents — registered nurses (RN), licensed practical nurses (LPN), and certified nursing assistants (CNA) were listed. The adjusted legislation now includes medication assistants, therapists, and care management (a few examples) as “direct care staff.”
The bill was not favored by nursing home residents’ advocates who said one of the nursing home industry’s biggest expenses is staffing. “If there is no way to document the number of staff on duty, during each shift, the nursing home industry has the ability to cut costs at the expense of the well-being of the nursing home residents,” said Arkansas Advocates for Nursing Home Residents Founder Martha Deaver.
Having enough staff in a nursing home is the most critical determinant of the quality of care the nursing home residents will receive. “Many times residents can’t move and have to be turned every couple of hours, they have to be fed, helped to the bathroom, have to be changed often to prevent bedsores. When there is not enough staff, neglect and abuse are more prevalent,” said Deaver.
“The Arkansas law that was in place for years specifically documented how many direct care staff members need to be on duty for every resident at various times of the day. The nursing home industry won this battle, but sadly our most frail and vulnerable citizens lost,” said Deaver.
KNWA/FOX24 reached out to the Arkansas Health Care Association (AHCA) for a comment about the nursing home, but AHCA was not available for immediate response. The AHCA is a trade organization represented by many local nursing homeowners and other organizations. It was established in 1951, according to its website. AHCA was active in the legislation of HB 1776.
The Department of Human Services said there are no shortages of employees at nursing homes in Arkansas.
HEALTHCARE WORKER SHORTAGES
Nationally, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions held a subcommittee hearing in Washington D.C., Thursday, May 20 chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), titled, “A Dire Shortage and Getting Worse: Solving the Crisis in the Health Care Workforce.”
Sanders opened the meeting addressing the shortage of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals in the country.
“The American Colleges reports by 2033 we [U.S.] will have a shortage of 139,000 doctors and primary care physicians,” said Sanders. “This does not take into consideration what COVID-19 has done. Many nurses have just quit the profession and others have even died as a result of COVID-19.”
Sanders said he is working with legislators, including U.S. Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), with trying to ensure doctors work in rural areas.